Six ways to sleep like an athlete

It’s not just about getting enough rest – we look at the best environment for sleep, dealing with jet lag and more

Six ways to sleep like an athlete

Most people sleep between 6 and 9 hours per night with a mean average for the British public of 6.5 hours. This doesn’t mean that 6.5 hours is sufficient and probably reflects more on our busy lifestyles, rather than the ideal length of sleep per night.


Optimal sleeping time will vary from person to person and can change with age and environmental factors. However, 7 to 7.5 hours will be enough sleep for most active and healthy individuals, to enable them ti perform physically and mentally at their best.

Interestingly, recent research suggests you can also sleep too much, making you feel sluggish during the day! I’ve seen this often during away matches with professional rugby players. While staying at hotels the players often sleep in (with nothing better to do) on match day. This puts them out of their routine and typically, they struggle to get going and don’t perform at their best. However, there are days when you have worked or trained to excess and your body may need a little longer sleep.

Here are my tips regarding sleep for optimal performance:

Try not to use an alarm clock. Allow your body to wake itself.

Quality of sleep is more important than quantity. Six hours of good sleep is better than eight hours of interrupted sleep.

Keep to your same regular sleeping times the eve before a competition or event. Don’t sleep in.

When travelling across time zones for a competition, begin adjusting your training and sleeping times about three weeks before travel. But make these changes via small, 10-15 minute increments. This will reduce the amount of jet lag you experience on arrival.

Make sure you go to bed hydrated (alcohol and evening training will dehydrate you). This improves recovery while you sleep, helping you to wake up refreshed.

Sleeping in a quiet, dark and cool room provides the best environment for quality sleep.

(Images: Ben Winston)

About the author

Phil Mack is a former GB and South African international triathlete, and has vast experience eliciting top-level performances from both elite and recreational athletes. With a global reputation as an injury rehabilitation specialist, Phil was Strength and Conditioning Coach to the South African Springboks, Leicester Tigers and Ulster rugby teams to name a few.

He now runs six sports injury and physiotherapy clinics ( in Edinburgh and Peebles (Scottish Borders), and is passionate about athletes of all standards getting the most out of themselves.


Mack’s many years of practical experience on warm-up routines have been distilled into a recent article he’s written called ‘Should I Stretch Before Running, Sport or Exercise?’, freely available here.